A brave new Britain? The future of the UK’s international policy Contents

1The challenge

1.“Frankly, I’m embarrassed that our generation has done this,” Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told us. “It is very difficult to sit with your young children and say to them, ‘Good luck to you. We will soon be passing on, in 20 or 30 years, and you will have to deal with this unbelievable state we are in.’”1 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Liberia, saw “tragedies all over the world”:2 a world that is “becoming a more dangerous place” (said Lord Hague of Richmond, former UK Foreign Secretary),3 “entering a very difficult time” (said Koji Tsuruoka, Japan’s former Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs),4 and will be a “world of instability, insecurity, and polarization” (said the International Committee of the Red Cross).5 Their views were part of the 80 written submissions and more than 100 pages of oral evidence gathered from around the world and published by our inquiry.6

2.The Integrated Review is a timely and necessary response to a world characterised by ever-strengthening interconnection and rapid technological change. Digital innovation and cheap travel have enabled people to visit, trade, support, enhance and understand one another more than ever. Nations, economies, markets and product chains are more intimately interconnected than ever before.7 With interconnectedness comes interdependence, for good and ill. Local challenges can quickly become international crises. These challenges can leave nations and individuals vulnerable to deliberate sabotage in ways that stop short of physical confrontation. Revolutionary factors, such as the expanding world of cyber, our lives online, and the development of algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, or machine-learning capacities have multiplied the power of a few individuals and companies that have innovated in this space. Those governments who wish not to intervene, for fear of constraining that innovation, risk becoming absent players in these frontier spaces. Those governments that seek to assert themselves over their own citizens or other nations now have, through such technologies, a much enhanced and potentially disruptive capacity to do so.

3.The prevailing sense of pessimism that characterised the contributions to our inquiry came in part from the immediate circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. We do not yet know whether this will be a temporary or a more enduring phenomenon, but it has had a dramatic effect on global interconnection and halted global progress in many forms.8 In addition, climate change poses an existential threat to the way we live our lives. International bodies have thus far found it difficult to find solutions to these problems, but these profound challenges have laid bare an even more deep-seated problem:9 the world is increasingly riven by global competition rather than cooperation.

4.In part, this global competition is driven by geo–political change. Other regions of the world are rising to greater economic strength and international influence alongside that of ‘the West’.10 But this global competition is also a battle between competing visions and mindsets. Autocracies are increasingly challenging the rules and norms that have, for decades, regulated international exchange. As competition intensifies, it will fall on democratic nations to uphold the central tenets of the rules-based international system, including democracy, human rights, and free trade. Many of our contributors urged the UK to articulate a clear place for universal values at the heart of its international policy,11 more effectively to challenge ‘revisionist’ powers that seek to subvert the international system and weaken rights.12 And the global competition is increasingly one between different technical systems. There is a trend towards ‘our’ systems code versus ‘theirs’, with declining interoperability.13 As countries are pressured to ‘pick a side’, the early decisions they take could soon become increasingly difficult to change and the sunk cost of new technology draws them down a path that encodes the values of one system into the heart of the economy.

5.Such competition has stalled, and to some degree reversed, cooperation through multilateral organisations. The drive towards international arbitration is increasingly challenged by great power rivalry and influence projection. The world lacks consensus-building leadership. Global divides are widening, and there is a risk of the world’s challenges becoming more abundant, more severe, and more difficult to resolve. There has been a tendency in the past to leave such leadership to more powerful nations. But the United States and China have recently failed to play a global leadership role and have, in pursuit of their own self-interest, deliberately undermined efforts to reach multilateral agreements.14 That has left other states, those more dependent on structured cooperation than direct expressions of national will, needing to work together to reinforce the framework of global cooperation.

6.An increasingly assertive and revisionist China has created geo-political friction with a more introspective United States. China and Russia, as leading authoritarian and revisionist powers, have also been more adept than their ideological rivals at realising where their capacity for international influence lies and harnessing the full spectrum of such capabilities. This includes hybrid warfare and the spread of propaganda and disinformation abroad, aggressive industrial policies including hostile take-overs, money laundering, debt as a tool to force smaller states into compliance, and incremental gains in territory through challenging the administration and sovereignty of smaller nations.15 Although this strategy has brought short-term benefits for these countries, we believe it is ultimately self-defeating and unsustainable.

7.The UK’s own international policy has been adrift. It has lacked clarity. More than four years after the soundbite was first used to encapsulate the UK’s international role, and almost three years after our Committee first called for more clarity about its meaning and metrics, many of our contributors still told us that they did not know what Global Britain stood for.16

8.It has also lacked confidence. Our contributors the world over were clear that the UK has recently appeared less ambitious and more absent in its global role. They gave a variety of reasons, including a diminished profile during the UK’s membership of the European Union,17 distraction by the process of leaving the EU,18 previous under-resourcing of its diplomatic service,19 or a more general de–prioritisation of some regions plus a reluctance against assertion in others.20 But, whatever the explanation, the conclusion was strikingly unanimous:

9.None of our contributors wanted the UK to stand back or keep quiet. All of them urged the UK to step up, do more, and play a more impactful role in the world. They highlighted the positive contribution that the UK could make to international relations, and the negative implications if it declined. Bobby McDonagh, a former Ambassador from the Republic of Ireland to the UK, said that “British foreign policy should seek to regain fully its self-confidence.”31 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned that “we need the United Kingdom and the skills it has, based on its influence and historical relationship, to do more […] the United Kingdom cannot retreat at this moment in time. It cannot retreat from the world.”32 Samantha Power, a former US Ambassador to the UN, agreed:

In a world where burden-sharing is indispensable, where the United States will not be the world’s policeman, it is important that there is a powerful, values-driven democracy that is willing to pull its weight—really to punch above its weight—in the international system. […] British diplomats and development professionals are involved in promoting all of those things in really singular ways.33

10.The UK has good reason to be confident in the capabilities of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), which were praised by contributors from around the world. In a survey of British Council youth networks in a range of different countries, commissioned by our Committee in collaboration with others,34 respondents overwhelmingly agreed that “the UK is an influential country in the world” and were clear that they saw the UK as having “the most influence in global affairs” through its diplomacy followed by its international aid. Samantha Power told us that “the diplomatic power of British public servants—foreign service—out in the field working alongside and in partnership with their development counterparts is a striking feature of the UK’s comparative advantage of its value add globally.”35 Sylvie-Agnès Bermann described the UK’s diplomatic service as “this wonderful tool”,36 while the City of London Corporation wrote of how “‘the British Embassy’ brands are powerful and widely respected.”37

11.Our evidence noted the UK’s convening power.38 The UK has a strong capacity to use its memberships and influence to bring countries together in dialogue. Contributors also admired the UK as a pragmatic country whose thought leadership, and the legal drafting capabilities of the FCDO’s lawyers, can bring the world together through agreed, stable and predictable frameworks. The UK’s own adherence to such frameworks is of paramount importance to its international reputation. It was an observation made, among others,39 by Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein,40 Ambassador Chan Heng Chee from Singapore,41 and Koji Tsuruoka from Japan who when, asked what the UK was good at, said:

In one word, I would say “quality”. Quality has many aspects. The legal capacity of the UK’s diplomats, lawyers and even political leadership is first class, if not top of the world. Many of the UN resolutions have been drafted by the UK’s diplomats in New York and London. Many of the important international treaties, including the framework of Bretton Woods, have been produced by the UK. This is because the UK has had, and I think continues to have, a long-term view of the global vision, and the ability to put that in writing and bring people on board, especially the Americans. This is a very high quality that we, meaning the world, need. No one else can do the same. This is something available only to the UK, and this will be the same for quite some time.42

12.But the UK will have the greatest impact abroad if it uses its range of assets and capabilities coherently. It is unlikely that the merger of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) will resolve the persistent problem that Britain abroad is less than the sum of its parts. The merger was announced on 16 June 2020,43 completed in September, and assessed by our Committee in a dedicated report.44 It was justified, in part, as giving coherence and adding impact to UK policy. The Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, said that the merger would “strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world.”45 But the problem of incoherence extended beyond DFID. BOND, a network of more than 400 organisations working in international development and humanitarian aid, was one of our contributors to write that “the Government is not doing enough to ensure policy coherence in decision-making.”46 The Foreign Policy Centre referred to “significant cultural roadblocks to achieving a whole-government approach to the UK’s international strategy”47 while, even after the FCO-DFID merger, the Institute for Government warned that “more work needs to be done” to “decide what organisational changes are necessary at the heart of government to maximise the UK’s influence across the world.”48 Dr Robin Porter, a Visiting Fellow at the University of Bristol, assessed that:

Other government departments in recent years have developed and pursued their own agendas for activity overseas, including the Ministry of Defence, DFID, Defra, and the various manifestations of the business arm of government—the DTI, UKTI, now BEIS etc. On occasion these [other government department] initiatives have been in conflict with those of the FCO, or have been carried out without the degree of sensitivity that successful diplomacy requires

and concluded that:

while other government departments may be involved in implementing that strategy, the formation of foreign policy advice to government should come from the FCO.49

13.The Integrated Review must address a lack of clear strategic vision, a lack of confidence, and lack of coherent implementation that has undermined recent international policy by the UK. The Review should respond, and be seen to respond, to the consultation that it has undertaken and the challenge that a robust review requires. It should publish its evidence base transparently, showing that future policy has a broad and strong foundation. And, for Global Britain to be more than just a slogan, the Review must provide:

i)a clear articulation of the UK’s interests and values, and of their roles in a coherent strategy for the UK’s international policy

ii)clear and limited priorities within designated timeframes

iii)meaningful and targeted resources with which to deliver

iv)greater coherence and alignment among UK levers of influence, and therefore greater impact abroad

v)an unambiguous leadership role for the diplomatic service. The Government has committed to spend 0.7% of GNI on Official Development Assistance (ODA), and we agree with the Government that UK diplomats must play the leading role in coordinating how this money is spent. But we recommend that the resourcing of the UK’s diplomatic service itself be directed by the UK’s strategic needs and must not be skewed by the requirements of ODA eligibility.

1 Dr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Q82)

2 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Q62)

3 Lord Hague of Richmond (Q21)

4 Koji Tsuruoka (Q115)

5 International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) (INR0063) para 4

6 A full list of oral-evidence transcripts and of published written evidence is available on our website.

7 See, for example, Emma Sky (INR0044) para 1; Nick Witney (European Council on Foreign Relations) (INR0031); and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drones (INR0054) para 5.2

8 See, for example, assessments of the impact of Covid-19 in HALO Trust (INR0041) para 4.2; BOND (INR0036) para 4; Oxfam (INR0052) para 40; and the ICRC (INR0063) para 33

9 See descriptions of the global competition by Claus Grube (INR0062) para A7; Juan Manuel Santos (Q98); Dr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Q82); the Mines Advisory Group (INR0038) para 8; and James Rogers (Henry Jackson Society) (INR0050)

10 We heard, including through our oral evidence, about the growing influence of South America, Africa, and the Indo-Pacific region.

11 See, for example, a readout from a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in (INR0078) para 13; UN Women (UK) (INR0088); the Foreign Policy Centre (INR0019); Oxford Research Group (INR0016) Executive Summary; Anthony Salamone (INR0066) para 7; James Rogers, Henry Jackson Society (INR0050); Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (INR0073) para 20; and Paul Docherty and Kate Jones (INR0045) para 34, reflecting the views of the 34 diplomats participating in the Oxford University Diplomatic Studies Programme

12 See, for example, Samantha Power (Q1); Marietje Schaake (Q53); Dr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Q91); Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Q58); Oxfam (INR0052) para 16; Professor Michael Clarke (INR0018) Section 4; Institute of Commonwealth Studies (INR0024) Section 1

13 Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee, from the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that “we are moving into a technology war” (Q137)

14 See discussions of China’s role by Samantha Power (Q10 and Q13); Asoke Mukerji (Q39), Koji Tsuruoka (Q121), Sylvie-Agnès Bermann (Q13); and Dr Tim Summers (INR0068); and discussions of the role of the United States by Juan Manuel Santos (Q98), Marietje Schaake (Q53), Dr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Q78), Bobby McDonagh (INR0005), Emma Sky (INR0044) para 2 and 3, and Professor Michael Clarke (INR0018) Section 4

15 See, for example, discussions of Russia by Dr Andrew Foxall (Henry Jackson Society) (INR0058) para 3 and Nick Witney (European Council on Foreign Relations) (INR0031), and discussions of ‘hybrid’ by the HALO Trust (INR0041) para 4.1 and Hew Strachan (INR0049)

16 See, for example, uncertainty about the meaning of Global Britain expressed by Paul Docherty and Kate Jones (INR0045) para 7 and para 9 (reporting the views of the 34 diplomats participating in the Oxford University Diplomatic Studies Programme); Dr William James (INR0065); Claus Grube (INR0062) para B1 and B10; Anthony Salamone (INR0066) para 4; the British Foreign Policy Group (INR0071) para 11; Dr Jonathan Gilmore (INR0028) Para 2.10; and Centre for Britain and Europe (INR0039) Section 2

17 See, for example, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Q69) and Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee (Q139)

18 See, for example, Asoke Mukerji (Q42) and a readout from a meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan in (INR0078) para 12

19 Our Committee commissioned the Scrutiny Unit of the Committee Office in the House of Commons to analyse and present the recent statistics from the FCO and FCDO on resourcing, in Annex 1. Several witnesses cited cuts to the funding and staff levels of what was the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) as a key factor behind the decline in the UK’s global profile. See, for example, Bath’s New Vision group (INR00012) ‘FCO’s resources and capabilities’; Professor Michael Clarke (INR0018) Section 6; Dr Robin Porter (INR0030) para 30; Dr Nicholas Wright (INR0033) para 21; BOND (INR0036) para 7; Emma Sky (INR0044) para 33; James Rogers (INR0050) ‘The priorities for UK foreign policy strategy’ para 2e; and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drones (INR0054) para 3.3. Figures published by the FCDO show that budget and staff numbers have recently increased, but also that a larger proportion of the Department’s budget is now derived from Official Development Assistance (ODA) and therefore has restrictions in terms of what it can be spent on.

20 See, for example, Alexander Downer (Q40) and Juan Manuel Santos (Q99). More general comments about a diminished role by the UK were made by Dr Nicholas Wright (INR0033) para 12 and 13; the Centre for Britain and Europe (INR0039); and the Coalition for Genocide Response (INR0064)

21 Chan Heng Chee (Q134)

22 Asoke Mukerji (Q52)

23 See, for example, oral evidence taken on 21 July 2020, HC 380 (2019–21) [Juan Manuel Santos] and the written contribution from Néstor Osorio Londoño (INR0060)

24 Juan Manuel Santos (Q99)

25 See a note of a meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan in (INR0078) para 12

26 See, for example, oral evidence taken on 18 June 2020, HC 380 (2019–21) [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf]

27 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Q69)

28 Alexander Downer (Q40)

29 Lord Hague of Richmond (Q22)

30 Sylvie-Agnès Bermann (Q9)

31 Bobby McDonagh (INR0005)

32 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Q66)

33 Samantha Power (Q9 and Q10). Other calls for the UK to increase its international activity came from Claus Grube (INR0062) para B9; Alexander Downer (Qq33 and 49); Lord Hague of Richmond (Q21); Save the Children (INR0014) para 4.4; BOND (INR0036) para 4; and the HALO Trust (INR0041) para 5.3

34 Relevant findings and explanation for this survey by the British Council are contained in Annex 2

35 Samantha Power (Q10)

36 Sylvie-Agnès Bermann (Q13)

37 City of London Corporation (INR0094) para 10

38 See, for example, Lord Hague of Richmond (Q21) and Georgina Wright, Institute for Government (INR0075) para 1c

39 See, for example, Professor Robert McCorquodale (INR0003) para 5

40 Dr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Qq77 and 80)

41 Chan Heng Chee (Q139)

42 Koji Tsuruoka (Q118)

43 HC Deb, 16 June 2020, col 666 [Commons Chamber]

44 Foreign Affairs Committee, 2nd Report of Session 2019–21, Merging Success: Bringing together the FCO and DFID, HC 525

45 HC Deb, 16 June 2020, col 667 [Commons Chamber]

46 BOND (INR0036) para 13

47 The Foreign Policy Centre (INR0019)

48 Georgina Wright, Institute for Government (INR0075) ‘Context’

49 Dr Robin Porter (INR0030) para 13

Published: 22 October 2020